Disney has been forced to make a statement regarding the controversial issues surrounding its newest tentpole feature release, Mulan. The entertainment conglomerate has been under heavy fire regarding where Mulan was shot in China, and the fact that Disney may have been in areas where Uighurs and other primarily Muslim minorities are being held in concentration camps.
Disney CFO Christine McCarthy acknowledged the controversy while speaking at the Bank of America Virtual 2020 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference. As reported by Deadline, McCarthy admitted that the news had created “a lot of publicity.” She tried to emphasize that the majority of Mulan was shot in New Zealand with only a few location shoots in China.
The Disney executive also stressed that they had to get permission from the government in China in order to shoot a few locations for historical accuracy. It is a common practice in the film industry to thank any entity that assists you in acquiring a shooting location. That is why the same Chinese government entity that is tied to the horrible acts going on in the Xinjiang province is also listed in the credits of Mulan.
McCarthy kept Disney’s cards close to her chest, but did admit that the awareness of this “has generated a lot of issues for us.” One of those issues she might be referring to is the fact that there is a Mulan ban in effect from the Chinese government. With the entire government doing its best to stop the film from getting any publicity, it would seem that the desired effect is to silence any discussion that could crop up around the film.
Mulan has been dogged by controversy for a while. Leading actress Liu Yifei ignited discussion when she spoke out in support the Hong Kong police and their actions against the numerous protesters the country has been dealing with. Coupled with the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on theatrical exhibition, Mulan has had a number of adversities flung at it.
And that might be coming around to hurt the new Disney film. Mulan opened in China over the weekend and took in a highly disappointing $23.2 million. For reference, the extravagant remake of the 1998 has a reported budget of $200 million. With the Chinese opening weekend barely being able to recoup 10% of the film’s reported budget, it is fair to call Mulan a flop in China. This is doubly damaging for the Mouse House since they were expecting Mulan to perform extremely well in China. It was even planned to make more money there than at the domestic market.
With Disney acknowledging the controversy surrounding their relationship with the Chinese government, could we see a change in how the two major global presences do business in the future? The Chinese box office is the second most profitable cinema market in the world. Disney will do whatever they can to appease China. After this controversy dies down, it will be interesting to see what Disney does to avoid another round of bad press.